Merrimack College Receives Grant to Expand Early College Program

Building on its successful early college program with Lawrence Public Schools, Merrimack College has received a grant to explore expanding course offerings and adding more school district partners.
Students studying. Copyright 2017 Tom Kates

The grant, from the Massachusetts Departments of Higher Education & Elementary and Secondary Education, will allow Merrimack to provide offerings specifically related to education, human services and criminal justice to help bolster high school students’ interest in those fields. Additionally, the grant will give Merrimack the opportunity to offer early college programming to more schools across Massachusetts.

“We’ve been looking for ways to reach more students,” said Russell Olwell, associate dean of the Winston School of Education and Social Policy.

Merrimack started its early college program in 2017 with Lawrence, followed by a remote dual enrollment program launched during the pandemic with the Lawrence, Methuen and Boston school districts. The goal moving forward is to develop both in-person and remote courses that high schools can offer no matter how many students are interested. The grant allows for more than 200 students to enroll in early college courses in spring 2023.

“For school districts, the goal is if you or any students have an interest, we can put a program together,” said Olwell.

The new course offerings will focus on education, human services and public safety, Olwell explained, because of the need to increase the workforce pipeline and diversity in those growing fields. Merrimack College already has curricula and programming foundations in those areas that Olwell said they plan to utilize. For example, undergraduate teacher education students would be employed as teaching assistants and provide student support, as well as counseling education graduate students.

A key aspect of the early college program that Olwell said this grant will also help students, parents and families connect college majors to the careers they could lead to. Merrimack has previously hosted Zoom sessions for students and their families to learn more about the program and potential career opportunities.

“With whatever program we are rolling out we want families to see there is a career at the other end of it,” Olwell said. “The early college courses students take today can lead to the major they study in college, which can lead to a career.”

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